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Soco Vaillabos, right, of Concord, serves a free lunch to a line of residents enjoying the celebration for the $2.2 million One Bay Area Grant Funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for Detroit Avenue safety improvements at the Spray Park at Meadow Homes Park in Concord, Calif., on Saturday, July 13, 2013. The safety improvements include new sidewalks, bike lanes, signals, bus shelter and new stop signs for residents in the area. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

CONCORD -- For seven years, Claudia Lopez has walked with her young children along Detroit Avenue on its narrow, cracked sidewalks, sometimes wheeling the stroller out onto the wide-lane street, while cars pass traveling well beyond the speed limit.

She makes this trip six times a day, five days a week. And now that her children are older, walking feels even more unsafe.

Lopez has been part of a grass-roots effort to lobby for improvements along the busy Concord street in the most highly populated area in the city.

A collaboration with a local governing agencies and the anticipation of receiving $2.2 million in One Bay Area grant funds has given her and many families in the Monument Corridor a long-awaited dose of hope.

"I see we can do things and make big changes in our community," she said through an interpreter.

She said the city's recent efforts, including installing stop signs and crosswalks, which were recognized at a ceremony recently, have already had a positive impact.

While the city submitted the application for the grant, the impetus came from the Monument Community Partnership and the Michael Chavez Center.

The two nonprofits, which have partnered in their efforts, initially polled local parents who were opting to drive their children to school about their reasoning. They learned of concerns about motorists who were disobeying the law and a lack of adequate protection, be it stoplights or lack of crosswalks.


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"We feel we're at the right place and time," said Ana Villalobos, their healthy community manager. "The city was able to listen to the real needs of the community."

"This was so overwhelmingly needed, just for the basics," said Concord City Councilman Edi Birsan, citing the location of one of the city's largest schools, Meadow Homes Elementary.

"Detroit Avenue has the most extreme collection of problems ... This project was a perfect backdrop for community action and getting (their) voices heard ... Everyone's in alignment that something must be done."

The grant is funding a project that includes fixing gaps in the sidewalk by securing easements and purchasing private property; installing two stoplights; making bus stop improvements; and installing bike lanes.

The infrastructure project is expected to be approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in September and receive federal approval in November. Construction is slated for 2015.

It was one of two out of 22 applications approved by the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority.

Lopez is part of the Monument Corridor's Kaiser Permanente-funded HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Project, with its issuance of a $1 million three-year grant, which is charged with finding ways to reduce childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes and to increase access to physical activity and healthy foods.

Community members participated in an initial assessment of Detroit Avenue, identifying short- and long-term improvements for better walkability.

"Sharing their experiences with (various) barriers (they've encountered) provided a rich insight into what changes were needed," said Rhea Laughlin, coordinator for First Five Contra Costa Regional Group. First Five oversees the local HEAL program.

The review process started in August 2012 with a workshop, funded by an Environmental Protection technical assistance grant, with 60 people in attendance. The group, including the staff of the Community Wellness and Prevention Program, through Contra Costa Health Services, walked the length of the car-centric avenue, looking for ways to make it more pedestrian friendly.

"We partner with cities to make good healthy policy decisions," said Coire Reilly, manager of its Injury Prevention and Physical Activity Promotion Program. "This project is a very tangible way to (enhance) that relationship."

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